Rosenkrantz finally freed
by Ed Walsh
Robert Rosenkrantz walked out of prison Saturday, August 5. It was his first day of freedom in 21 years. The gay man who shot and killed a schoolmate who attacked him at a high school graduation party in 1985 and later outed him to his father, is free on parole.
Rosenkrantz's fight for freedom has been tied up in the courts since 1996, when he first became eligible for parole. His case became a cause celebre for prisoner rights advocates because despite his status as a model prisoner, state authorities fought to keep him locked up. The state had argued that despite his behavior in prison, the gravity of his offense was reason enough to keep him incarcerated. But this summer Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge David Wesley disagreed.
On June 26, Wesley ruled that the parole board illegally denied Rosenkrantz parole. Wesley's decision was based on the board turning down Rosenkrantz's bid for parole last year. On July 27, Wesley ordered that Rosenkrantz be released from prison.
Rosenkrantz, 39, was convicted of second-degree murder in 1986 and sentenced to 17-years-to-life. Wesley ruled that state authorities effectively changed that sentence to life without the possibility of parole.
"The board's continued reliance on the circumstances of the offense runs contrary to the rehabilitative goals espoused by the prison system and has violated the petitioner's due process," Wesley concluded.
Wesley's ruling was echoed in previous years by two other Los Angeles County Superior Court judges and those decisions were affirmed by the California Court of Appeal. But the state fought Rosenkrantz's release at every turn. In 2002, the California Supreme Court handed Rosenkrantz a stinging defeat by ruling that then-Governor Gray Davis and subsequent governors had broad discretion to block the parole of any inmate.
Despite his release, Rosenkrantz could be sent back to prison, according to California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesman Tip Kindel.
The state will now have to contend with the federal courts if it wants to send Rosenkrantz back to prison. The Bay Area Reporter has learned that U.S. District Judge Gary A. Feess signed an order on August 1 that would have forced the state to release Rosenkrantz within 30 days. The federal decision was based on Rosenkrantz's denial of parole in 2004. Kindel said he was not aware of that decision because the California Attorney General's office did not inform him of it. The attorney general's press office referred calls on the Rosenkrantz case to Kindel.
In yet another legal track, Kindel told the B.A.R. this week that the state is pressing its appeal of Wesley's order. Kindel said that that an appeals court could overturn Wesley's decision and send him back to prison. Kindel noted that that appeal process could take months. The state had already sought an emergency stay of Rosenkrantz's release from the California Supreme Court but the high court refused to intervene, paving the way for his release last weekend.
Separately, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger may be faced with a decision on the case as early as next month. In May, the Board of Parole Hearings ordered Rosenkrantz released. The board, known for its strict standards, only allowed parole for about 5 percent of eligible prisoners last year.
Even though Rosenkrantz is already free, Kindel said that the decision would be reviewed for possible errors by the legal staff, and if approved, sent to the governor's desk.
The governor then would have the option of vetoing the parole board's decision. If the governor simply does nothing, the parole order would stand. If the governor formally vetoes the parole order, it could set the state up for a concurrent set of legal appeals.
Chain of events
Rosenkrantz had recently turned 18 in June 1985 when he shot and killed Steve Redman, 17. The shooting took place in Calabasas, in Los Angeles County. The chain of events that led to the shooting began days earlier.
Redman and Rosenkrantz's younger brother, armed with a stun gun and a metal flashlight, stormed a high school graduation party hosted by Rosenkrantz, yelling, "Get the fuck out of here, you faggots." The party included Rosenkrantz and three young gay men and a young gay woman and was held in the Rosenkrantz family beach house.
In the fight that followed, Redman broke Rosenkrantz's nose with a flashlight and Rosenkrantz's hand was burned as he wrestled a stun gun out of his brother's hands. Rosenkrantz fought back, stinging his brother several times with the gun.
Redman later told Rosenkrantz's father that his son was gay. After being confronted by his father, a distraught Rosenkrantz left the family home and lived out of his car. He purchased an Uzi. He said he wanted to use it to shoot up Redman's car. He testified during his trial that he confronted Redman with the Uzi and demanded that he take back the outing. Rosenkrantz said that Redman refused, laughed, and called him faggot. He said that's when he opened fire, shooting Redman 10 times.
After fleeing to Northern California, Rosenkrantz eventually turned himself in. Although prosecutors sought a first-degree murder conviction, the jury returned a verdict of murder in the second degree.
Rosenkrantz's parole has been strongly supported by the judge who presided over his trial and a homicide detective who arrested him and investigated the case against him. Redman's late grandmother had also written letters in support of Rosenkrantz's parole.
Larry Diamond, the Los Angeles County deputy district attorney who prosecuted the case in 1986, told the B.A.R . this week, "I wish him the best. I'm sure it's going to be hard for him to adjust."
Diamond added that that Los Angeles District Attorney's office no longer opposed Rosenkrantz's parole.
Prison reform activist Mark Smith told the B.A.R. that Rosenkrantz's release signals new hope for other prisoners. Smith knew Rosenkrantz for 20 years while they both were serving time at the California Men's Colony prison in San Luis Obispo. Like Rosenkrantz, Smith is openly gay. Smith's case made legal history in 2003 when he was ordered released by the courts despite having his parole vetoed by then-Governor Davis.
"I'm thrilled that Robert has finally been released from prison," Smith told the B.A.R. in an e-mail. "After his crime, I have seen him become an intelligent, caring man, mournful for the victim of a crime he can not change.
"I hope that Rob's release will rekindle hope for other term-to-life prisoners who have not been released because of California's political stampede to let's-see-who-can-get-the-toughest-on-crime-at-any-cost campaign."
Smith continued, "My only fear is if the state should pull its cruel card and waste precious state resources to appeal a decision that has finally been laid to rest and attempt to tear Robert from his family once again.
"Revamping parole procedures for term-life inmates who have served their time and can be safely released would bring fairness and equity to this hobbled prison system; it would also have a tremendously positive effect on our economy. The high cost of running our prisons will quickly escalate if prison reform is not taken seriously before it's too late."
Smith is the keynote speaker at a town hall meeting on California's troubled prison system scheduled for today (Thursday, August 10), at the state Capitol in Sacramento. The meeting will bring together victims' and prisoners' rights advocates, prison officials, and law enforcement representatives. The 1 p.m. meeting will be followed by a memorial and candlelight vigil at 5.
Following his release, the Rosenkrantz family requested privacy and declined to talk to reporters.
In 2002, following a California Supreme Court hearing on the case in Fresno, the family may have best summarized their feelings when they gathered for an emotional news conference in which they expressed remorse to the Redman family and pleaded for their son's release.
"On the tragic day over 17 years ago, my first son Robert came to me for love and support," Herbert Rosenkrantz said. "He'd been attacked and he'd been beaten. His nose was broken. He was burned by a stun gun. What was worse, and I didn't understand as his father, is that he had been cruelly humiliated and outed as a homosexual. And I have to say that what little self-esteem he had when he came to me, it was all gone by the time he left me. I didn't understand what it meant to him. My immediate reaction was to reject my son. A rejection that absolutely shattered Robert and set into motion like a big boulder going down a mountain, a chain of events that ended up in the death of Steven Redman. I regretted my failure to support Robert every day of my life."